Q. I went to a breakfast speaker meeting recently where coffee and pastries were available for all the attendees before we took our seats. I always find it interesting and challenging to figure out how to properly eat some of these pastries. It was quite a variety from which to choose. For example, there were true bite-sized cinnamon twirls; the traditional caramel nut buns, little ones, medium ones and what I call regular size; 2-inch and a 5-inch Danish rolls with the fruit or cheese in the center; traditional pop-in-the-mouth little cream puffs; and regular sized eclairs topped with chocolate or vanilla icing.
What is the proper way to eat the items I have listed? Can I use my fingers? Some must not be for fingers because there was a small plate full of small forks available (I guess they were dessert forks) and smaller knives available nearby.
A. Yes, the variety and sizes of the pastries you described are indeed interesting, and some offer more of a challenge to properly eat than others. The general rule for eating pastries is this: If you can pick up the entire pastry from your plate and eat it without getting jelly, icing, caramel or filling on your fingers, then by all means, use your fingers. If, however, you are not quite certain you can accomplish this task, then you should pick up one of the forks and one of the knives.
Use your fork and knife to cut a small fruit-filled or cheese-filled Danish in half. If the two remaining pieces are truly bite-sized, then use the fork to bring one of the pieces to your mouth to eat. Note that I did not say, cute it in half and then use your fingers to pick up one of the pieces and bring it to your mouth. If necessary, cut each half again before attempting to bring a bite to your mouth with your fork.
Larger Danish: Use your fork and knife to cut the Danish in half. Then cut one of the halves into half again, or possibly one more cut to get a bite-sized piece. Do not cut the other full half until after all the pieces from the first half have been cut and eaten.
Cream puffs. These can be picked up from your plate with your fingers, one at a time, and brought to your mouth one at a time.
Regular sized cream-filled eclairs: What a challenge! Unless you want icing and filling all over your fingers, use your fork and knife. Cut the eclair in half. Then cut one of the halves into half again. Bring a bite-sized piece to your mouth with your fork. If necessary, cut one of the halves again to get the size you need to bring to your mouth without the cream spilling out. Do not cut the other original half until all the other smaller pieces of the first half have been eaten.
Bite-Sized Cinnamon Swirls: If there is no icing whatsoever on the top, it is perfectly acceptable to use your fingers to pick up one of the swirls from your plate and bring it to your mouth.
Caramel and nut covered buns of any size: A fork and a knife are a must for this type pastry because even a bite-size would get caramel all over your fingers. Cut and eat as I have described above for the eclair.
My observation: Unless some kind of student-style tables are provided, the additional challenge becomes how to hold a coffee cup, a small plate, a napkin, and a fork and knife, then cuts bite-sized pieces of anything and gets it to your mouth without overturning the plate and whatever else remains on it, or spilling the coffee. Obviously, the person ordering the pastry is not an attendee.
Q: A few months ago, I was out with 3 other friends celebrating one of our birthdays at a very nice tea room. One of the ladies I was with would look at other people and things going on and comment on them when I was speaking. She doesn’t do that with the other ladies. She has done this many times to me. I’m beginning to think that I am either extremely boring, or she is extremely rude. I always give her my undivided attention when she is speaking to me. What is your opinion?
A. This woman (note that I do not refer to her as a lady) is extremely rude. She should give you her undivided attention when you are speaking to her. I suggest you avoid socializing with her. She is not worth your time or attention.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.